“The United States of America stands with the people of Tunisia, and supports the democratic aspirations of all people,” President Obama said on Tuesday, but he could not say the US stands with the people of Egypt, even though they are currently making their democratic aspirations crystal clear.
What the people of Egypt know, as do the citizens living under every US-backed autocratic ruler in the Middle East, is that if they are to win the prize of democratic freedom, they must surmount the obstacles that the US government throws in their way.
The Obama administration has made it perfectly evident that in spite of the pro-democracy platitudes it reluctantly espouses, it’s preeminent loyalties are with its undemocratic allies — thus Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s reluctance to even utter the word “democracy.”
Instead of backing democracy in Egypt, the administration supports reform and it claims that Hosni Mubarak is capable of bringing about the necessary changes.
At the State Department yesterday, a Middle Eastern reporter challenged Clinton, saying:
[Y]ou seem to imply that the Egyptian Government is capable of reforming itself and meeting the expectation of the people. Yet the mood in the streets of Cairo today contrasts that, and people are demanding for radical change, removal of the government and President Mubarak not to nominate himself for another term. Are you unsure of what’s happening in Cairo?
I do think it’s possible for there to be reforms, and that is what we are urging and calling for. And it is something that I think everyone knows must be on the agenda of the government as they not just respond to the protest, but as they look beyond as to what needs to be done economically, socially, politically. And there are a lot of very well informed, active civil society leaders in Egypt who have put forward specific ideas for reform, and we are encouraging and urging the Egyptian Government to be responsive to that.
The message from Egypt is simple: the Egyptian people want democratic freedom and an end to dictatorship. They want an end to a brutal regime that still retains Washington’s support. The demonstrators are not calling on Mubarak to implement reforms; they are demanding that he go — and that is a demand that, so far, the Obama administration refuses to acknowledge.
When the status quo becomes untenable, people take to the streets in order to force political change. But Mubarak’s friends in Washington and Jerusalem are not ready to see him go — their preeminent interest is in stability.
As the Jerusalem Post reports:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has met repeatedly since coming to power in March 2009 with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and has said on a number of occasions that he has great respect for Mubarak as a statesman, and as a leader with vast experience and knowledge. Earlier this month he characterized the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement as a “foundation for regional stability.”
There is not a prevalent sense among Egypt watchers in Jerusalem that the disturbances pose a threat to Mubarak’s regime. Rather, the concern is what comes after the 82-year-old Mubarak, and whether his successor – whether his son or someone else – will have the same authority and command the same degree of allegiance.
The sense in Jerusalem is that it would be a mistake to look at the events in Egypt and see an extension of what happened in Tunisia.
“This is not a Tunisian domino effect,” one official said.
Egypt, it was pointed out, is not as closed as Tunisia was under ousted president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali – it has a different political culture, with more organized opposition and more outlets for letting off steam than existed in Tunisia.
Most importantly, the army is considered loyal to the government, whereas the commander of the Tunisian army determined that it would not face down the protestors there.
Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who is close to Mubarak and met on Tuesday with a senior Egyptian official, said Mubarak’s regime was strong and stable. He said there was no Egyptian who was serious enough competition for Mubarak to lead an effort against him.
“I don’t think it is possible [for there to be a revolution in Egypt],” Ben-Eliezer told Army Radio. “I see things calming down soon.
“Israel cannot do anything about what is happening there. All we can do is express our support for Mubarak and hope the riots pass quietly.”
Likewise, in an interview with Al Jazeera‘s Shihab Rattansi [see video below], State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said:
We want to see restraint on both sides. We want to see the Egyptian people have the opportunity to engage their government, to make clear what their aspirations of [sic], and we want to see that government respond in a meaningful way to meet those aspirations. That is our goal. That is the advice we are giving Egypt. We hope that Egypt will allow its people to protest peacefully but also open up the door for meaningful reforms.
Al Jazeera: Right, but we’re not talking in general terms here. Egypt is not letting its people protest peacefully. It’s deploying the full ranks of its US-backed $1.3 billion-backed security forces to beat up those protesters. Isn’t it time perhaps to be a little firmer with President Mubarak?
Crowley: We are giving Egypt advice publicly and privately. We have concerns about what is happening on the street. We are watching the situation carefully. We are in touch with the Egyptian government and we’re making clear that Egypt should allow its citizens to peacefully protest.
AJ: And if it doesn’t, is that funding — is that US support in jeopardy?
Crowley: We don’t see this as an either/or proposition. Egypt is an ally and friend of the United States. It’s an anchor of stability in the Middle East. It is helping us to pursue comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
But what every Egyptian knows today is that the United States government is not a friend of Egypt, it is a friend and ally of the Mubarak regime — a regime that does not represent the Egyptian people, nor should even be afforded the political shorthand of being referred to as “Egypt.”
Democracy is not the United State’s gift to the world and it will not be acquired under American tutelage. Real democrats don’t bankroll dictatorships.